Why You Need to Stop Avoiding Conflict and What to Do Instead
Most people don’t like conflict.
They associate conflict with negative thoughts and don’t see how helpful it can be in their relationships. They don’t make the distinction between conflict and how people respond to it.
What can be of concern, is how people address conflict. If someone yells or becomes defensive when faced with conflict, these are unhealthy ways of responding. But it’s not the conflict itself that is the problem. We have to move away from seeing conflict as a bad thing.
Healthy conflict can provide a deeper understanding of people. It allows you to be vulnerable and express your true thoughts and feelings. Which in turn can allow you to connect more effectively with the person because you’re able to know them at a deeper level. It can also allow people to understand your boundaries, your morals and your belief system. They will see what you’re willing to stand for and what you will compromise on.
Do you find that when an issue arises with a colleague, family member, friend, or even your partner you often bite your tongue? Now there are times when it’s necessary to skirt an issue, but if when faced with a possible conflict you usually remain silent in order to avoid it, this may be a problem.
When you remain silent it is interpreted as acceptance, which very well may not be your intention. And keep in mind that the issues you have will only snowball. They won’t go away. You may later begin to feel that you’re living a life of resentment. And if you think that you’re making your relationships stronger by avoiding conflict, you’re wrong. Research shows that increases in positive feelings in close relationships depend on enhancing intimacy rather than on decreasing conflict (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167205274447). One of the best ways to increase intimacy in your relationships is to be honest about how you feel. Let people see who you are.
So the next time an issue arises, consider these tips:
Determine whether there’s an issue to address
Not everything has to be an issue. There are definitely times when it makes sense to let something go. Examine the consequence of remaining silent to determine whether you need to speak up.
Decide whether it’s an appropriate time and place to discuss the issue
Are you at a business lunch around clients or out with your in-laws and your partner? These may be times when it’s best to wait until you are alone with the person to address an issue. People tend to respond better in a discussion if it’s in a private setting. So you may want to hold off on bringing up the issue until a time when you can speak with the person privately.
It’s important to clearly understand the person’s perspective before expressing your own. You can use active and reflective listening(https://psychcentral.com/lib/become-a-better-listener-active-listening/), by asking questions to ensure that you understand the person. For example, “Are you saying that you feel neglected when I stay out with my colleagues after work?” If you don’t listen, it’s possible that you can misinterpret what someone says and find that there really isn’t conflict and instead miss-communication.
Clearly explain your position
Be specific about your thoughts. Don’t generalize and don’t bring up issues from the past. Speak with the goal of the person being able to completely understand your position. It’s also best to use “I statements.” For example, “I feel overwhelmed when I have to do the dishes by myself,” instead of “I hate that you never do the dishes.”
Brainstorm and present solutions
It’s helpful to think though all of the possible solutions (https://blogs.psychcentral.com/leveraging-adversity/2015/03/got-problems-13-solution-focused-questions-to-ask-yourself/) to the problem. Don’t waste time dwelling on the issue. Be prepared to present the solutions that you’ve thought about, and also allow the person to present solutions as well.
Be willing to compromise…when needed
Accept that there will be times when you won’t get what you want. Aim so that both of you will be content in the resolution. But do not be willing to sacrifice your morals and your integrity in order to compromise.
Decide on a solution and check back in if needed
Once a solution has been decided on, accept this. It’s not helpful to continue to bring up the issue, once it has been resolved. However, if you feel that the solution is no longer working for you, it’s ok to ask the person to have a conversation about it. Don’t walk around continuously contemplating whether you should bring it up, just bring it up.
Remember that there is no such thing as a relationship without conflict. We are different with different thoughts and beliefs, and at some point we will differ with others. It’s guaranteed to happen. The only conflict-free relationships are those where someone is hiding their thoughts and beliefs. And this is not healthy, nor is it sustainable.
Don’t forget that conflict can strengthen your relationships and allow you to connect with people on a deeper level. So keep these tips in mind the next time you’re faced with a conflict.
Carver, C., Laurenceau, J. & Troy, A. (2005). “Two Distinct Emotional Experiences in Romantic Relationships: Effects of Perceptions Regarding Approach of Intimacy and Avoidance of Conflict”. Society for Personality & Social Psychology. 31(8) pp. 1123–1133. Available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167205274447
Pizzolla, N. (2018). Why You Need to Stop Avoiding Conflict and What to Do Instead. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-you-need-to-stop-avoiding-conflict-and-what-to-do-instead/